Families recount stories of 1862 war victims

NEW ULM – Six direct descendants of U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 victims told their stories and discussed the aftermath of the battle for settler families Wednesday at the New Ulm Public Library.

Jan Klein, co-director of Family and Friends of Dakota War Victims, said Renville County suffered the most war casualties, with only six of 54 families returning to the county afterward. Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith compiled a casualty list of 737 names, but he said there were others whose identities were not established.

“Nearly all the people in Renville County either died, fled or were taken captive,” Klein said. “Only six of 54 families returned, but those who did became leaders.”

Interest in the war continues to climb, including people from Norway and Sweden who are “fascinated by the story,” and have commented on the group’s Facebook site, Klein said. The site is viewed by more than 450 people a week.

“My great-great-grandfather (John Clasen) and his son were killed by warriors while they were threshing in Milford Township. An Indian charged with the murders, was hung at Mankato,” Klein said. “The original barn at the farm site still stands near the intersection of County Roads 11 and 27. There are five graves without names (or markers) nearby.”

Other panelists included Klein’s sister Joyce Klonz, a descendant of Carl and Johanna Heuer of Milford Township.

Klonz told stories of settlers’ bodies that were mutilated.

“Anton Ochs helped defend New Ulm,” said Owatonna veterinarian Matthew Boisen, a descendant of Anton and Walburga Ochs of Milford Township. “He later helped rebuild New Ulm, working as a contractor.”

George Luskey, a Le Sueur native who now lives in Shakopee, said William Luskey, an Irishman, was one of the Le Sueur Tigers who defended New Ulm.

Luskey said six Tigers lost their lives in the Aug. 23, 1862 defense of New Ulm and were buried here.

Three months later, the bodies were retrieved and transported to Le Sueur for reburial, Luskey said.

Mary McConnell said her great-great-grandmother, Ellen McConnell, at age 70, and her son David walked 12 miles to Fort Ridgely following an attack at Birch Coulee. Ellen McConnell later received a $112 war reparation payment for losing a large family Bible brought to America from Scotland.

Joan Wilcox, of St. Cloud, said there were no militia or soldiers in Kandiyohi or Swift County where the Dakota attacked settlers near West Lake, now called Munson Lake.

“Life on the prairie was lonely, but two vastly different cultures coexisted until Aug. 20, 1862 when 25 to 30 warriors attacked settlers near West and Norway lakes,” Wilcox said. “An historical marker for the attacks stands in Lebanon Cemetery in New London.”

Klein said the war resulted in serious trauma to widows and orphans who lost family members.

“It was PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but nobody knew what that was back then,” Klein said. “Some of the next things we’ll research is what happened to the survivors of war victims. We’re here today, but how did we get here?”

Fort Ridgely event

on Sunday

A ceremony will take place at 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 25 at the Fort Ridgely Cemetery south of Fairfax to remember the soldiers and settlers who lost their lives in the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

Estimates range from 600-800 people killed in the Minnesota River Valley and vicinity during the six-week war. The 24 soldiers killed at the Battle of Redwood Ferry are buried in the fort’s cemetery.

The ceremony is under the auspices of the Civil War Commemorative Task Force. Speakers include Secretary of State Mark Ritchie; Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township; Pat Gaarder of the Minnesota Historical Society; John Williamson, a descendant of missionaries who worked with the Dakota; Jan Klein, co-chair of Family and Friends of Dakota War Victims; and John Grabko, representing the Fillmore County soldiers killed at Redwood Ferry.

The deaths of Little Crow and other Dakota were remembered at a similar July 6 observance in Hutchinson.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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